Examining Formative Assessment Practices for English Language Learners in Science Classrooms (Collaborative Research: Ruiz-Primo)

This is an exploratory study to identify critical aspects of effective science formative assessment (FA) practices for English Language Learners (ELLs), and the contextual factors influencing such practices. FA, in the context of the study, is viewed as a process contributing to the science learning of ELLs, as opposed to the administration of discrete sets of instruments to collect data from students. The study targets Spanish-speaking, elementary and middle school students.

Full Description: 

This is a two-year exploratory study to identify critical aspects of effective science formative assessment (FA) practices for English Language Learners (ELLs), and the contextual factors influencing such practices. Three institutions join efforts for this purpose: University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Colorado at Denver, and University of Washington. FA, in the context of the study, is viewed as a process contributing to the science learning of ELLs, as opposed to the administration of discrete sets of instruments to collect data from students. The study targets Spanish-speaking, elementary and middle school students. Findings from this study contribute to advance knowledge and understanding of FA as an inherent component of the science learning process in linguistically diverse classrooms, and to define a research agenda aimed at enhancing science teachers' ability to enact equitable and effective assessment practices for this student subpopulation.

Three research questions guide the work: (1) What FA practices are occurring in science classrooms that serve predominantly mainstream students and in those serving predominantly ELLs?; (2) How are teachers' FA practices for mainstream students different from or similar to those used with ELLs?; and (3) How do contextual factors and teachers' cultural and linguistic competencies influence FA practices? To address these questions, two conceptual frameworks are used--one for characterizing FA events; the other for examining FA events as a communication process. The study employs a mixed-methods research approach with emphasis on case studies. The sample size consists of three school districts in Colorado and Washington, 16 classrooms (8 elementary, 8 middle school), 16 teachers, and 96 ELLs. Classrooms are selected to represent a particular combination of four factors: (a) teacher ethnicity, (b) teacher formal academic preparation in teaching ELLs, (c) type of linguistic student background, and (d) grade level. Students are selected through a stratified random sample, identified by achievement level (i.e., low, medium, high), and linguistic background (i.e., mainstream, ELL). Data collection strategies to document the implementation of FA at the beginning, during, and at the end of a science unit include: (a) classroom observation protocols, (b) classroom video-recording, (c) video/artifact simulated recall, (d) assessment artifacts, (e) student interviews, (f) teacher questionnaires, (g) teacher interviews, (h) school principal interviews, and (i) school observations. Reliability and validity of most of the data-gathering instruments is determined through pilot studies. Data interpretation strategies include: (a) coding based on the two conceptual frameworks, (b) scoring rubrics to identify levels of effectiveness, and (c) narratives and profiles to describe FA patterns. Publications and the development of a website constitute the main dissemination strategies. A technical advisory board is responsible for formative and summative evaluation. Key evaluation questions are: (1) To what extent does the project enhance research on ELL FA practices through case studies?, and (2) How effectively do the project dissemination activities facilitate understanding of FA practices?

Major project outcomes include: (1) a description of the patterns of formal and informal FA practices for ELLs; (2) a comparison of the FA practices observed in classrooms that vary on the dimensions of teacher characteristics and linguistic diversity; and (3) an empirically and theoretically informed set of findings and strategies for supporting teachers to enact and enhance FA practices sensitive to cultural and linguistic diversity. Three main products are developed: (1) a monograph describing the FA practices observed across the different classrooms with concrete examples; (2) a description of possible professional development strategies to improve in-service FA practices for linguistically diverse students; and (3) a research-informed approach for analyzing FA practices. Besides filling the existing research gap on FA with ELLs, outcomes and products serve as a foundation for a future research agenda and a comprehensive project aimed at ensuring equitable science learning for all students, including ELLs.

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